“Agnes Moor’s Wild Knight”, by Alyssa Cole

19 Jan
Cover for Agnes Moor's Wild Knight. The bottom half shows a medieval keep; the top half is a partial shot of a knight wearing armor, holding a shield at his feet.

The theme for this month’s TBR Challenge is “Quickies”, and honestly this 23 page novella absolutely embodies the letter if not the spirit of it.1 (I’m still thinking about it.)

And, would you look at that! it’s also absolutely an Unusual Historical, both in setting (1508 Scotland) and characters (our heroine is Black, in 1508 Scotland)

Agnes is quick witted and loyal, and thus, she’s favored by the Scottish monarchs. That favor she repays by acting as both entertainment, due to the color of her skin, and as ambassador for the king’s goal of uniting Scotland.3

All of her loyalty and good cheer do not insulate her against the uncouth curiosity of the court, or cushion the loneliness of her position. Once, a few months past, she felt intense attraction for a man, but circumstances made their acquaintance brief, and Agnes is not one to waste emotional energy dreaming of what can’t be.

Except now here he is again, set on claiming her for his own. Ah, instalove!

From the author’s website:

Agnes Moor knows her place in the court of King James IV—as one of the “exotics” in his employ. When the king makes a kiss from Agnes the prize of a tourney, a mysterious knight plows through his opponents to claim it. But it isn’t chance. The Wild Knight has come for her, and her champion is after after the most elusive prize of all: her heart.

The tight word count made for a story that barely develops Agnes as a character, and where Gareth MacAllister, newly dubbed Earl of Arran, is seen only from her point of view. He’s all brawn and beauty, but also sweetness, intelligence and loyalty; after speaking with her but once, the Laird fell in love so deeply as to devote himself to help James achieve his dream of peace with the Highlands, so as to be allowed to court-propose-marry Agnes.

It’s a sweet and undeveloped fantasy that plays more like a vignette than a full story, happening in the span of a day, involving one kiss and one sexual escapade, then a marriage proposal.

After which, I have no reason to believe this relationship would be successful, or that Agnes would be happier in the Highlands than she would among James’s courtiers.

Then again, it’s a sweet fantasy, no? The wild and powerful man changing his life to win his fair lady, moving mountains, yet asking so very little of her: but to be loved.

Still, I want more meat in my genre romance than this, frankly. Less sex and more conversation, or hell, even just a scene from Gareth’s point of view. Because, and I repeat myself, I don’t know why these two want to be together, or why they’d remain happy with each other.

A more minor complains is that some of the word choices are awkward (Agnes “clambers” onto her bed rather than climb into it), and others anachronistic (set in 1508, a man would wear a doublet or surcoat, or even a cotehardie, but not a jacket).

I would love a longer story about these two characters, say, during the first year of their marriage, or some such, but I doubt we’ll ever see something like that, and I’m left trying to rate the story that is here with a scale created very much for something else.

Ah, well.

“Agnes Moor’s Wild Knight” get a 6.00 out of 10

* * * * *

1 The author’s note at the end confirms that the story is inspired by the Tournament of the Wild Knight and the Black Lady, held in Scotland in 1507 and 1508; in turn, it’s speculated elsewhere that the poem Of Ane Blak-Moir by William Dunbar was based on a historical person, as Margaret and Helen (also called Ellen) Moor, two Black women, were part of the court of James IV of Scotland. 2

2 The poem is racist, as it uses the form of praise for a beautiful lady to mock the Black woman in question.

3 I find this historical detail confusing, mostly out of ignorance.

14 Responses to ““Agnes Moor’s Wild Knight”, by Alyssa Cole”

  1. willaful 19/01/2022 at 5:09 PM #

    A first year of marriage sequel would be interesting indeed!

    I guess some readers like these shorts? They’re not really my cuppa.

    • azteclady 19/01/2022 at 5:21 PM #

      Honestly, this one would make a smashing *prologue* for a full novel starting on their wedding anniversary or some such.

      I’ve read short like these as short erotic stories, and they work that way, but as genre romance? meh, not for me, at all.

  2. Dorine 19/01/2022 at 10:28 PM #

    oh my – I hope you’ve tried or will try more of Alyssa Cole’s historical romances. I do love them, but this wouldn’t work for me either.

    • azteclady 19/01/2022 at 11:23 PM #

      Oh, absolutely; I liked the writing well enough.

      • willaful 20/01/2022 at 1:46 AM #

        I really liked _Let Us Dream_. I think it’s a more regular sized novella.

  3. willaful 20/01/2022 at 1:47 AM #

    Oh and also, _That Could Be Enough_.

  4. whiskeyinthejar 20/01/2022 at 12:04 PM #

    This was almost going to be my pick! I typically struggle with 100pg novellas, so I wasn’t sure about reviewing such a Quickie. Your wanting more, scenes from Gareth’s pov, are what drive me crazy about short stories. This sounds good, probably a waiting room read (that will end up living rent free and driving me crazy wanting more to the story).

    Also have to acknowledge the footnotes in your review, I get nerdy excited for footnotes in hist rom, review footnotes had me gasping in delight, lol.

    • azteclady 20/01/2022 at 12:43 PM #

      A mis brazos!

      (footnotes nerds, unite)

      Welcome, WhiskeyInTheJar!

      See, I’ve read some excellent, excellent 100p to 150p novellas that set up entire universes, that then live in my head for decades–most recently, Milla Vane’s The Beast of Blackmoor”–and I can occasionally enjoy short vignettes like this one, when they’re extras in a universe I already know–Nalini Singh has oodles of those for her Psy/Changeling series.

      My problem with this one is that it’s supposed to be a self-contained genre romance. Meet, lust, connect, HEA. All in effectively 23 pages that include a couple of pages epilogue for after the wedding, which itself happens like a month after the tournament. There just isn’t enough there for me to work as a romance.

      • whiskeyinthejar 20/01/2022 at 1:17 PM #

        Milla Vane’s A Heart of Blood and Ashes is probably the most rec’d book to me from the last two years!
        Looks like I’m starting this year’s TBRchallenge adding more books than I took off again, lol.

      • azteclady 20/01/2022 at 1:29 PM #

        I’m not gonna say you should read it immediately, but I liked it soooooo much. I do recommend (and spell out in my review) reading the novella, and heed the content warnings in the author’s series page first, because the world is dark.

        But boy, I finished the novel, and read it again, then read the second one, and started on the first one again. That world is now an obsession, and I can barely wait until the third one comes out in the summer.

      • Dorine 20/01/2022 at 1:33 PM #

        LOL! Sounds just like me adding books. This group of bloggers are addictive.

      • azteclady 20/01/2022 at 2:36 PM #

        It’s definitely a double-edged blade; read one or two off the TBR, learn about fifteen other interesting ones to look up and add to the TBR. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  5. SuperWendy 29/01/2022 at 10:45 PM #

    Always late with the commenting these days. 23 pages is really short and very, very tricky to write and it tends to work best in erotica for me. It can work in romance (for me), but it almost always has to be a HFN or else the author has to elude to some sort of long-standing acquaintance and/or relationship for me to swallow the HEA.

    • azteclady 29/01/2022 at 10:49 PM #

      Yes, exactly! There was not enough history between the characters, so it was totally insta-love, then one day (not even, more one evening with nookie), then married.

      The writing voice is very appealing, but the romance is just not convincing for me.

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